Saturday, May 29, 2010

False Assumptions

The reverse of the state quarter of New Hampsh...

Well, I've gone and done it, i.e. set a date for a repeat performance with board exams this year. June 22 at 8:00 AM in one of the seacoast towns across the Maine-New Hampshire state line. I've held off intentionally, wanting to schedule when it felt right and preserve some sense of control over the process or at least my responses to it.

If I've got any advantage this time, it's due to having taken boards once before; I'm a veteran. I haven't slept in the trenches or slogged my way through muddy marshes, but I've seen my enemy face to face and lived to tell the tale. Board exams are an eight to nine hour marathon combining brain-strain with physical endurance. Even with scheduled breaks, it's exhausting.

So, how does an older student prepare for an experience like this? The assumption you run into is that age somehow slows down the mechanism. Biology is supposed to work against you like moisture on a piece of metal left out in the barnyard too long -- you got it, rust forms. It's hard to convince those who've never been in your position that things don't have to turn out that way. Common assumptions can easily be false ones.

You start like anyone else with a lick of sense, as my father used to say. Make sure you're in shape. Exercise, lose some weight, build stamina, and eat better. Add more fruit, lose the refined sugars (I don't mean chocolate, but maybe cut back a little), and drink more water -- it keeps you hydrated and improves learning and memory retention. The exam itself, however, involves sitting for two hours, then a break, then two more hours, etc. It makes sense to try to simulate those conditions, so that E-Day (exam day) is like any other, at least where your backside is concerned.

Regarding the material itself, instead of trying to review the whole of medical school in the next three weeks, I'm using a question bank that evaluates my progress and shows me which specific areas need work. "High yield," I'm discovering, doesn't necessarily mean trying to outguess the test designers as much as shoring up my weaknesses. The main thing is to feel confident and capable based on practice and adequate preparation, since boards, in the words of one of my classmates, are first and foremost, a "head" game.

"That's all well and good," say the assumers, "but it still has to be harder, being older." Truthfully, I wouldn't know, since I never tackled medical school and board exams when I was younger. I have nothing to compare this to. Honestly, it's tough for all of us. And even if it was tougher, that only makes the long-term rewards all the more precious and the celebration, when you walk across the stage with degree in hand, just that much sweeter.

(Public Domain image via Wikipedia)
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